Premature Babies

As many as 12% of all babies born in the UK need some kind of level of special care at birth: around 80,000 babies per year. A premature baby is classified as a baby born before 37 weeks. However it is not just babies born before than their due date which may require a neonatal stay.
Classification of premature and low birth weight babies

  • Premature baby: born before 37 weeks
  • Moderately premature baby: born between 35 and 37 weeks
  • Very premature baby: born between 29 and 34 weeks
  • Extremely premature baby: born between 24 and 28 weeks
  • Low birth weight baby: weighs less than 2,500g (5.5lbs)
  • Very low birth weight baby: weighs less than 1,500g (3.0lbs)
  • Extremely low birth weight baby:- weighs less than 1,000g (2.0lbs)

Risk factors for preterm labour and low birth weight
A range of factors can contribute to the risk of premature birth and/or low birth weight, these include both medical and social factors, many of which are beyond the control of the mother and her family.

Medical factors:
If a pregnant woman experiences any of the following, she may be at a higher risk of premature birth and/or having a baby with a low birth weight baby.

  • Anxiety and stress
  • Cervical incompetence / short cervical length
  • Infections
  • Multiple pregnancy
  • Older mothers
  • Premature rupture of the membranes (SPROM / PROM)
  • Pre eclampsia / hypertension
  • Previous spontaneous pre term delivery
  • Sexually transmitted diseases
  • SLE – Systemic lupus erythematosus
  • Type 1 diabetes during pregnancy
  • Uncontrolled athsma
  • Being underweight
  • Eating disorders
  • Being younger than 15 years old

Social factors:
If a pregnant woman experiences any of the following, she may be at a higher risk of premature birth and/or having a baby with a low birth weight baby

  • Alcohol misuse
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Intimate partner abuse
  • Being a member of a high risk ethnic group
  • Being from a low socioeconomic class
  • Substance misuse

During pregnancy most parents imagine an ideal labour and birth, resulting in a perfect baby which grows up without problems. This is not entirely the case when a baby is admitted to the neonatal unit. Many parents of babies who are admitted to the neonatal unit may experience a complicated pregnancy, labour and/or birth. The baby they imagine, is not always the baby that they see in the cot or incubator.

Feelings of grief, loss and fear are common for parents, and many are anxious about their baby’s chance of survival and future in the long term. The rollercoaster ride that parents of a very premature baby experience is very difficult to imagine.

Parents can feel a multitude of emotions, and most feel helpless, confused and frightened, and mothers of pre-term babies experience more levels of psychological distress in the neonatal period than mothers of full term babies.

Outcomes for premature and sick babies:
New technology has meant the prognosis of very small premature babies has significantly improved over the years. Babies born from 29 weeks gestation upwards usually have a high survival rate and develop normally. However, extremely premature babies born below 25 weeks or with a very low birth weight (less than 1,500g) may face a number of problems when compared with term babies.

Apart from short term complications that occur following birth, studies have shown low birth weight babies and extremely premature babies can be at risk of:

  • Poor health
  • Slower growth
  • Developmental disabilities
  • Increased likely hood of Cerebral palsy (CP)
  • Visual problems
  • Hearing problems
  • Motor delay / Poor motor skills
  • Specific difficulty in areas of learning / academic achievement
  • Difficulty with visual motor integration
  • Poor language skills

However, assumptions should never be made about premature babies and any problems they may experience.  Each baby is carefully assessed according to their individual health, development and needs.

by Michelle, mum to Joshua, Alexa and Nathan

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